The winter had been long and I was tired of it. Tired of it all. The bitter cold, the sleeping outside, the loneliness, and never knowing if I was going to live one day to the next let alone through the night. This war seemed to have gone on forever. The killing, the fighting, the disease, the death. If something didn’t change soon I couldn’t promise that I wouldn’t walk away from it all. I didn’t even know what we were fighting for anymore. The reason seemed to have gotten lost over the years. Now…well now I was tired.
We were walking through the woods on our way to a small town that was rumored to have a safe house for those who wish for a warm bed and good food without fear of being shot. It did not matter what side you were on, everyone was welcomed. The one condition was no fighting. When you stepped through the threshold you left the war outside. A little piece of heaven in my world of hell.
Neither of us talked. My buddy was just as tired as I was. So it was with a profound silence that we trudged through the damp woods, each of us praying that we had enough strength to make it to our destination. I was about to call for a break when we broke through the treeline into a clearing. What we saw sitting in the middle stopped us in our tracks.
The deep rich mahogany was a stark contrast to the dead vegetation around it. At first glance the instrument look pristine, but as I squinted at it, still not sure I was seeing what I was seeing, I began to see scratches and dings. The big question that I knew was also running through my buddies mind was, what the hell was a piano doing out in the middle of nowhere?
Looking at my friend, I raised my eyebrows in question. He answered with a shrug of his shoulders. He had no clue either. Being we were in enemy territory, silence was the key to survival. This could also be a trap, but it had been so long since I had heard the sound of something as beautiful as music I could not resist the temptation the piano. Pulling my gun from my shoulder, I motioned my friend to follow. Grimacing he did as I asked.
Step by step we slowly made our way to the piano, each of us scanning the ground and treeline for any sign of danger, our rifle butts tightly against our shoulders, our fingers ready to squeeze the trigger at the moment danger reared it’s ugly head. When we reached the piano, my friend kept his rifle at the ready as I lowered mine and studied the piano for boobytraps. When nothing seemed amiss I motioned for him to that is was clear. Still vigilant, he moved closer to, glancing down as I slowly opened the lid to reveal the ivory keys. Unlike the rest of the piano that, on closer inspection, obviously had been sitting out in the elements for some time, the keys were pristine, the white and black shining in the waning light. I reached out to push one of the keys. His hand shot out stopping me. Pursing his lips he shook his head, clearly not wanting me to touch them. I saw his reasoning. On the outside it looked innocent enough, but on the inside…. Motioning him to stand back, I moved to the side and put my hand on the top of the piano. Taking a deep breath for courage, I slowly lifted the lid. When nothing exploded in our faces we both heaved a sigh of relief. Looking inside I did not see anything wrong. Quietly closing the lid I smiled that everything was fine.
Frowning, my friend once again moved to my side. We still had no clue as to why this piano was sitting in the middle of a clearing in the middle of the woods in the middle of nowhere. Again I reached out and touched one of the keys. To my surprise, the soft sound was in key. Moving so I was centered, I placed both hands on the keys and ran a sequence of chords. Every one of them were in key. I looked at my friend in surprise and again all he did was shrug. Unable to help myself I played a little tune my mother had taught me at a young age. One that always brought back memories of apple pie and milk. Of sitting around the table with family and friends laughing and eating. Memories I thought long buried under death and destruction. Suddenly the world did not seem like such a dark and dismal place. Suddenly I realized that one day I will have that warm safe feeling again. I would make sure of it.
My friend tapped me on the shoulder. Glancing at him, he pointed with his chin across the clearing, his rifle once again in his hands. Looking where he pointed, a small child stood at the edge of the clearing watching us. With a motion of his hand to follow, he disappeared into the trees. Curious as to why there was a child alone in these dangerous woods, we cautiously followed. Maybe he was the trap. Even so, leaving a small child alone and unprotected did not sit well with either of us.
What we found shocked us. The piano was not a trap, but a test. If we just passed it by without touching it we would be allowed to pass unharmed. If we destroyed it then we too would have been destroyed. By playing it, we showed those who were watching that we might be able to be trusted with the biggest secret of this unending war. That we could be brought home.
Copyright 2016 Heidi Barnes
This is to a response to Kellie Elmore’s FWF prompt on her website Magic in the Backyard.